Pitt football wraps up 2016 recruiting class on National Signing Day


Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi talks on the phone with a football commit during 2016 National Signing Day. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

After some drama, surprises and countless “Pitt is It” tweets, Pitt finalized its 2016 recruiting class during National Signing Day.

The Panthers class includes 24 players — as well as transfer tight end Chris Clark and senior Ejuan Price, who the NCAA granted a sixth year of eligibility — and Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi’s first recruiting class boasts a strong top-to-bottom list of talent.

Here are Pitt’s 2016 signees from Wednesday, as well as comments from Narduzzi on each player.

BRANDON FORD OL — Upper St. Clair (PA) ★★★☆☆

6’5” 295 lbs @_BFord98

Ford was the first player in the 2016 class to commit to Pitt, as well as the first player to send in his letter of intent Wednesday morning, doing so via email. He helped lead Upper St. Clair to 224 rushing yards per game his senior season and also saw time at defensive tackle.

COACH SAYS: “He is a big, very athletic giant.”

THOMAS MACVITTIE QB — Moeller (OH) ★★★☆☆

6’5” 225 lbs @ThomasMacVittie

One of the top quarterback prospects Pitt has brought in over the past years, new offensive coordinator Matt Canada was able to hold onto MacVitte despite the signal caller’s relationship with former coordinator Jim Chaney. MacVitte had an impeccable senior year, throwing for 16 touchdowns and one interception.

COACH SAYS: “[He’s a] a drop-back guy, but you can say he’s a dual-threat quarterback because he can run and he will hit you.”

JUSTIN MORGAN OL — Poly Prep (NY) ★★★☆☆

6’6” 365 lbs @_heavyhittajus

Morgan is the biggest player in the Panthers’ class, with Narduzzi calling him deceptively athletic for his size. Various scouting services rated him the consensus top offensive lineman in the state of New York.

COACH SAYS: “He can hug you and you might be gone. He’s a huge man …”

MAURICE FFRENCH WR — New Brunswick (NJ) ★★★☆☆

5’11” 185 lbs @Jiggy_MF6

Ffrench is a dynamic athlete from New Jersey who tallied more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage his senior year. He garnered interest from Penn State later on in the recruiting process, but turned down the offer. A two-way player, the team expects Ffrench to see most action as a wideout, but would not rule out some time at defensive back.

COACH SAYS: “We have needs at the receiver position. I think he can come in there and maybe fill in for a Tyler Boyd-type guy.”

ZACH GILBERT DE — South Mecklenburg (NC) ★★★☆☆

6’1” 240 lbs @ZackAttack_715

The son of former Pitt star Sean Gilbert, the defensive end started all four years in high school, tallying 40.5 career sacks. While he also has lined up at tailback, the team expects Gilbert to follow his father’s footsteps and become a fixture in the trenches for the Panthers.

COACH SAYS: “Zach is a super, super kid. He’s going to be a big-time player for us. I can’t wait to get him on campus.”

BRYCE HARGROVE DL — Coventry (OH) ★★★☆☆

6’4” 260 lbs @BryceDeenie

Hargrove is a late bloomer, as the big defensive lineman didn’t even start playing high school football until his junior year. He adapted quickly though, recording 14 sacks over his two seasons, including nine in his first campaign. He attends the same high school that produced Steelers linebacker James Harrison.

COACH SAYS:  “[He’s] another really big athlete, and that’s something we didn’t get a lot of last class.”

PHIL CAMPBELL RB/DB — South Brunswick (NJ) ★★★☆☆

6’0” 185 lbs @PCampell24

Campbell is one of a group of versatile commits in this year’s class. While Narduzzi noted he’ll likely play safety, the New Jersey product could see action at running back after running for 848 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.

COACH SAYS: “He’s an athletic safety, but he could be a tailback as well, so we’ll see whereour needs take us.”

AARON MATHEWS WR — Clairton (PA) ★★★☆☆

6’4” 190 lbs @Mathews_A1

Originally committed to Penn State, Mathews flipped on Monday, jumping at the chance to play wide receiver at the college level. He is the latest Clairton product to join Pitt, following the footsteps of Tyler Boyd and Terrish Webb. He has played an array of positions, ranging from wideout to defensive back to quarterback.

COACH SAYS: “Aaron is going to be a huge addition to our wideout corps … He brings a lot of toughness to the game.”

THERRAN COLEMAN DB — Brashear (PA) ★★★☆☆

6’0” 190 lbs @All4DaLockdown

A talented local player, Coleman led Brashear to consecutive City League championships the past two seasons, playing quarterback along with cornerback. He earned back-to-back City League Player of the Year awards as well and expects to bolster Pitt’s defensive back depth.

COACH SAYS: “He’s probably the most mature player we have in our program, really.”

ELIAS REYNOLDS LB — Poly Prep  (NY) ★★☆☆☆

6’2” 225 lbs @_HITMAN7_ 

Reynolds is a former Rutgers commit who decommitted in November. Narduzzi noted the versatility of Reynolds, who Scout ranked the top prospect in New York. Reynolds can play linebacker, tight end and special teams, which could help him see the field early in his career.

COACH SAYS: “Another guy that we really don’t have enough of in our program. A guy that can play special teams, a guy that can play linebacker, a guy that can be an H-back.”

BRICEN GARNER DB — Central Catholic (PA) ★★★☆☆

6’1” 175 lbs @BigGucciBrice

Garner is one of a trio of Central Catholic signees in the 2016 class, joining fellow defensive back Damar Hamlin and defensive lineman Rashad Wheeler. Garner participated in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, a premier high school all-star game.  He was a key component of Central Catholic’s PIAA title this year.

COACH SAYS: “[Bricen is] probably one of the most underrated players in this class.”

HENRY MILLER DB — Gateway (FL) ★★★☆☆

6’3” 205 lbs @_HJMII

Despite a late push by Miami to flip him, Miller stuck with the Panthers on Signing Day. Miller also played quarterback but established himself as an elite press corner at Gateway. He has the size to switch to safety and will probably shift depending on where Pitt needs depth.

COACH SAYS: “Henry is another tall lengthy, defensive back — 6-foot-3. Does a lot of different things.”

KAEZON PUGH LB — Aliquippa (PA) ★★★★☆

6’1” 210 lbs @tunein23

Pugh had an astounding senior season, earning player of the year honors from the Beaver County Times and Pittsburgh Tribune Review as a star running back and linebacker. He ran for 2,451 yards and 35 touchdowns in his senior year, while kicking 42 extra points and starting at linebacker.

COACH SAYS: “I think this guy is gonna blow up when he starts eating in our program and lifting with coach [Dave] Andrews.”

RUBEN FLOWERS WR — Lima (OH) ★★★★☆

6’3” 185 lbs @OneAndOnly_11_

Flowers is a tall, athletic receiver with a basketball background. He will be one of Pitt’s many wideouts that will try to step up and replace the production of departed superstar Tyler Boyd. Flowers caught 19 touchdowns as a senior, and finished with over 3,300 receiving yards in his high school career.

COACH SAYS: “He provides us a big target in the future. He’s a guy that’s been committed since the summer and has bought in since the beginning.”

AMIR WATTS DL — Wendell Phillips Academy (IL) ★★★★☆

6’3” 270 lbs @AmirWatts345

Watts is a highly regarded lineman that committed to the Panthers over schools like Penn State and Nebraska. While he played defensive tackle, he still came up with 135 tackles his senior year and put up 34 tackles for loss. Watts played in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.

COACH SAYS: “He could come in here and play defensive end, we’ll see what he looks like when he gets here.”

ZACH WILLIAMS OL — North Marion (FL) ★★★☆☆

6’5” 275 lbs @sluggawilliams

Williams played tight end as a junior before switching to offensive line as a senior. In his final season, he thrived as a lineman, anchoring a unit that paved the way for two 1,000 yard runners and a 40.8 point per game clip. Narduzzi did not rule out Williams seeing some time at tight end.

COACH SAYS: “Maybe some people called him a slow tight end, but we saw something in him in terms of tape.”

KEYSHON CAMP DL — Lake Gibson (FL) ★★★☆☆

6’4” 275 lbs @Camp_thatdude

Camp verbally committed to USC, but decommitted and was avidly pursued by Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin. Despite receiving offers from Alabama, Michigan and Missouri, Camp signed with Pitt Wednesday, adding a top-flight talent to an already strong recruiting class and improving Pitt’s middling depth at defensive tackle.

COACH SAYS: “A big, big football player … You may have seen, if you follow Twitter, he made a big, big snow angel in the middle of Heinz Field. That was him. That was his body.”

RASHAD WHEELER DL —Central Catholic (PA) ★★★☆☆

6’3” 280 lbs @ShadWheeler_12

One of the more enthusiastic recruits in the class, Wheeler was a dominant force on Central Catholic’s defensive line this season, and even returned an interception for a touchdown in his team’s 24-17 WPIAL championship game win over Penn-Trafford.

COACH SAYS: “Rashad is a guy that’s been a great recruiter in that high school for the last 5 to 6 months.”

CHASE PINE LB — Lafayette (VA) ★★★☆☆

6’2” 220 lbs @PineStar11

Pine had the Pitt community on edge after taking an official visit to Virginia Tech this past weekend, but reaffirmed his commitment to Pitt Wednesday morning. The Virginia Gazette named Pine Player of the Year after a senior season in which he racked up 80 tackles, 11 sacks and 25 tackles for loss. He participated in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.

COACH SAYS: “He’s a big, very physical linebacker that is going to play a lot of football for us.”

DAMAR HAMLIN DB — Central Catholic (PA) ★★★★☆

6’1” 185 lbs @HamlinIsland

Perhaps the biggest commit of the class, Pitt beat out Penn State and Ohio State for Hamlin, the consensus top ranked cornerback in the state of Pennsylvania as well as a consensus top 225 recruit in the country. Hamlin should make an immediate impact after compiling 89 tackles, two interceptions and three fumbles in his senior year.

COACH SAYS: “He’s one of the best athletic corners you could ever recruit.”

GEORGE HILL ATH — Hubbard (OH) ★★★★☆

5’11” 200 lbs @Ayooo_George

Hill is one of the most electric players in the class, as well as one of the highest-regarded athletes in the country. Although he only played in eight games as a senior, he still totalled more than 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. Hill will likely see playing time on both offense and defense, following the blueprint Jordan Whitehead set last year.

COACH SAYS: “He’s a flat-out athlete. Probably one of the fastest guys we have.”

RASHAD WEAVER DL — Cooper City (FL) ★★★☆☆

6’5” 255 lbs @R_Weaver80

Weaver initially pledged to Michigan, but reopened his recruitment after the Wolverines dropped his offer. While he officially announced his decision to commit to Pitt on National Signing Day, Narduzzi said he knew since the weekend that Weaver would pick Pitt.

COACH SAYS: “He’s a guy that adds depth to our defensive line. He’s a big defensive end that can run.”

PATRICK JONES DL — Grassfield (VA) ★★☆☆☆

6’5” 250 lbs @P_jones9

One of two early enrollees, Jones graduated early and can take part in spring practice. Ranked the No. 1 defensive end in Virginia by Scout, Jones finished his senior year with 12.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks before departing for Pitt.

COACH SAYS: “He can play tight end, he can play defensive end. If we need his services on offense, we’re gonna see what his ball skills are like.”

CHAWNTEZ MOSS RB — Bedford (OH) ★★★☆☆

5’11” 195 lbs @_XfactorTez_

As the other early enrollee, Moss can participate in Pitt’s spring drills. Rivals rates Moss the 35th-best running back in the country — thanks to a two-year span at Bedford that saw him rush for more than 3,000 yards, including a 2,000 yard junior season.

COACH SAYS: “He’s the only true tailback in this class, so there’s a lot of pressure on him.”

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